A new San Diego school tailored to junior technology whizzes gave parents a sneak peek today, throwing open its doors to show off two model classrooms loaded with sleek iMac computers, laptops, interactive whiteboards and robotic equipment.

“One kid called these ‘Legos on steroids,’” said Bill Berggren, a San Diego Unified program specialist in engineering, showing off a rack of cranks, plugs, cables and motors used for robotics projects. “You know how we talk about kids needing rigor, relevance and relationships? This is the relevance piece. Kids don’t ask why they need to learn this.”

Millennial Tech Middle School will open this fall on the former Gompers High School campus. It’s a magnet school focused on science, technology, engineering and math that will draw students from the entire school district; students must apply to attend. That means the school needs to court parents to sign up their kids. Leaf-green banners outside the school show beakers, atoms and gadgets; inside, San Diego Unified staff showed off a nearly $30,000 three-dimensional printer that lets students create plastic objects after designing them on a computer.

Point Loma parent Maria Gibson hadn’t yet decided whether Millennial was for her 11-year-old daughter, but she was impressed by the new school. As she toured Millennial, she said that long waiting lists had deterred her from applying to the charter High Tech Middle School. Her neighborhood school, Dana Middle, is pushing for more technology in classrooms. But there’s something alluring about the blank slate of a new school explicitly geared toward science and technology, she said.

“Books are obsolete the minute they get printed,” Gibson said. “Kids don’t learn that way anymore.”

She gestured to a classroom full of kids, intently watching an adult demonstrating a lesson on a digital whiteboard. On a hot day during summer vacation, Gibson said it was impressive that the lesson still held their attention.

Millennial got a slightly delayed start in planning when the school board disputed the location of the new magnet was earlier this year. Trustees had considered locating the school at Memorial Academy, a troubled charter school in Logan Heights, but ultimately chose to create a different public program to compete with the charter on its site.

But Principal Helen Griffith said she was undeterred by the delay and the challenge of opening a new school. She has helped to open two other schools in San Diego: Lincoln High School, which opened last year, and Crawford High School, which reopened as four small high schools in 2004. Her concern is taking the federal grant money that Millennial has received as a magnet school and using it wisely, so that the highly computerized school is sustainable when the funding disappears.

“If we become a model school,” Griffith said, “people will invest in it.”


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